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Confused and concerned about fire contract negotiations

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As a past Mill Creek City Councilmember I am utterly confused and concerned where we are in our negotiations with Fire District 7. Our contract will be ending at the end of this year. The lack of transparency by the city council and city manager on this major service has me questioning what is going on.

The fire contract expired at the end of 2016 with the ability to extend each year, which both parties agreed based on negotiating a new contract for services beginning in 2017.

The district reached out in January 2016 to begin the process of collective bargaining. It appears no meetings were held in 2016.

In Dec 2016 city manager advised the city council she wanted to form an experienced team to negotiate the contract. The team would consist of Bob Stowe, former city manager, Scott Missal our contract city attorney, our new Police and finance directors.  

My first concern was why we were hiring outside assistance to negotiate a contract. Bob Stowe’s contract was for six months at $4,500 per month, a total of $27,000.  Plus if he continues after June he would be on an hourly basis of $250.00.  Plus not to mention the expense of legal counsel.
 
As a Councilmember, I spent countless hours discussing cost and service levels with council and city managers for our citizens in open session over the years without having to hire outside assistance.

Our Fire Station 76 in the heart of Mill Creek is manned by three firemen and two emergency medical services professionals 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This has been supported by the citizens with a special levy voted by the citizens. The station is now in jeopardy.

In December 2016, the city council exercised their right under the fire contract to purchase Mill Creek Fire Station 76 from Fire District 7. My first reaction was, “Why are we taking on this additional expense?” The letter to the district states “The City looks forward to working with the District to complete the purchase and sale of the Fire Station in the first part of 2017.”

There had been no open dialogue by the city council on the fire services issue in 2016. There is no transparency on what the council was thinking regarding this decision.

Because Mill Creek’s negotiating team didn’t agree with Fire District 7’s final financial offer given to Bob Stowe on May 3rd, Fire District 7 Commissioner Randy Fay gave notice to the city council on June 13th they had to terminate the contract effective January 1, 2018. According to Fay they couldn’t continue to provide fire and EMS services at a loss.

On Friday, June 16th, our city manager posted a notice that the city hired another outside contractor for an in-depth needs analysis of Mill Creek fire and emergency services requirements.

My next question was, “Why now at this late date in negotiations?”

If she questioned the past information from the district and history of the 34-year relationship, this should have been her first project to undertake before building a team of negotiators.

Building a long-term strategy for the core service of fire and EMS services should have been one of her first priorities two years ago, knowing the time frame to negotiate was short.

This study is supposed to take four months placing us within two to three months of termination of our fire services on January 1, 2018. Not very much time to negotiate a new contract.

My past experience and the lack of council and city manager transparency on this issue is very troubling. Even more troubling, the 2017-2018 biennial budget does not come close to covering the current level of service for 2017 not saying anything about 2018 costs.

Citizens expect our council to be transparent. Our mayor in her City News column stated, ”The city is committed to meeting the public safety needs of our community.” Joni Kirk our Communication Manager stated in The Herald “The city has taken steps to ensure emergency coverage through an alternate provider or in house should the need arise."

That statement does not reassure me that our citizens will have fire and EMS coverage on January 1, 2018.  We need to hear from our City Council.

Kathy Nielsen

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